Hurricane Lane’s Near-Miss Exposes Vulnerabilities To Hawaii’s Grid


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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While Hurricane Lane continues to move westward, preparation for the storm’s initial impact has exposed Hawaii’s vulnerable energy infrastructure.

Hurricane Lane pounded the islands Friday with high winds and flash flooding. More than 30 inches of rain have dropped on Hawaii’s Big Island, and torrential rain will continue over Kauai, Maui and Oahu through the weekend. The storm has downgraded considerably — dropping from Category 4 to 3 on Thursday night and then dropping to a Category 2 on Friday.

#GOESWest satellite captured #Hurricane #Lane in this rainbow imagery. Preliminary storm totals from @NWSHonolulu have the Big Island at 31″. The slow movement of the storm is causing dangerous flooding from the torrential rainfall for #Hawaii. Imagery:

Hawaii missed the eye of the storm, but Hurricane Lane still exposed the sensitivity of the state’s electrical grid.

As a tiny collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii does not benefit from many resources. It imported 91 percent of the energy it consumed in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. Hawaii isolation thousands of miles away from the U.S. mainland makes its energy dependence even more precarious and has resulted in residents living with the highest electricity prices in the country. (RELATED: Hawaii Thinks It Can Completely Shift To Renewable Energy By 2045)

The National Weather Service warned that Hurricane Lane had the potential to delay fuel deliveries to the islands. Only two operating refineries are located on the island of Oahu. Should a strong enough storm shut the plants down, residents would be left without fuel.

Distribution within the islands is also fragile. For example, a single radial line delivers power from parts of Maui to the town of Hana on the other end of the island. High winds with flying debris could knock down lines, leaving isolated populations without power.

While Hawaiians do benefit from a higher-than-average use of residential solar power, this would not carry them through an emergency situation. Very few residents have the battery backup needed to operate independently from the grid.

Hawaii’s dependence of foreign energy has prompted lawmakers to embrace renewable energy that can be locally generated. Democratic Gov. David Ige signed a bill in 2015 that mandates electric utilities produce 100 percent renewable energy, such as wind and solar, by 2045 — the first state in the country to enact such a standard.

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